Outsiders who want to do business with Silicon Valley companies — investors, entrepreneurs, would-be partners from other industries — should understand something. It’s not 100% rational here. Emotion plays a huge part.
Religious battles like “open” versus proprietary and HTML5 versus Flash can seem like attempts to paper over a company’s obvious profit motives, commoditize the competition, and all the other playground scrum tactics of modern capitalism.
But the thing is, people in Silicon Valley really believe.
Every single startup CEO here claims that their company will change its industry segment — if not THE ENTIRE WORLD.
A lot of engineers here sincerely argue that open source software is better not only for technical reasons — seeing and changing the source code makes it more reliable in the long run — but because it’s THE RIGHT THING TO DO. If you’re building a tool that you want everybody to use, you have to give it away and let other people USE IT. The money comes later. Or maybe not.
Even a lot of VCs get the gleam in their eyes a few minutes into the conversation. Sure, there’s some science in what they invest in, and they’re always chasing the biggest possible returns — in the end, the numbers rule. But when it comes down to deciding exactly which companies to place bets on, the decision isn’t always completely rational. There’s just something about a particular entrepreneur, a vision, a personality quirk, a sense that they’re tapped into something bigger than daily life.
Remember: this is where the most important networking event of the year is a week long rave in the middle of the desert. Where senior engineers check out of their cubes early to catch the killer breaks coming in from Hawaii — although they’ll always log on later if they have more work to do. Where you really can’t tell whether the long-haired guy in the tie-dye is talking on his Bluetooth headset or to his imaginary friends on Saturn.
Maybe it’s all just pitch and ego, but the fervor with which they speak is so convincing, it makes you think about true motives. These people are smart. They work insane hours. They could make a lot of money in a lot of places. Money is not their primary motive — it’s not unimportant, but they’re not ONLY trying to retire rich. They’re trying to change the world.
And really, where else would a smart dreamer go? Politics? Too compromised. A non-profit? Not influential enough. Hollywood? Please.
Outsiders who misunderstand this aren’t going to get what they want from the Valley. Although, as Steve Jobs showed the recording industry a few years back, the Valley may very well get what they want from them.